The presence of a toddler in the house is probably not conducive to keeping light wool carpets in pristine condition. Spills and marks are inevitable and, having tried many of the various spot and stain cleaners (Vanish, 1001 etc) I was left unsatisfied. I found that it was obvious where certain marks had been treated (many of the products seemed to cause the carpet to temporarily "fluff") and they could not deal with general wear marks over larger areas.
A carpet cleaner seemed to be the way forward. We looked at the likes of Rug Doctor and other hire equipment but a combination of mixed reviews, overall price and the fact that we'd just have to get the cleaning done in one fell swoop stole us against this idea. It seemed far more sensible to look at a carpet washer that we could buy and use as and when convenient, either on spots and spills or larger areas.
Research online suggested that the choice was between Bissell and Vax in terms of manufacturer. I'd had experience of a Vax years ago and, whilst great for spots I'd not been that impressed with area cleaning. The carpet, as I recall, also took an age to dry. Further research seemed to suggest that the Bissell AromaPro was the machine we were after. In tests conducted by Which? it seemed to dry the carpets the best as well as performing well in the wash tests. At around the £200 mark from Argos (in 2008) it was not the cheapest option but we thought that, over time, we could see it paying for itself.
Of course, no machine is going to be good value unless it is easy to use. If it's a pain to use then you're not going to bother. Thankfully, the Bissell is a dream to use and hasn't been consigned to the back of its storage never to see the light of day!
The AromaPro is an upright carpet washer and came out top of the uprights in the Which? testing around 2007/8 beating its nearest competitor (a Vax) by quite a margin. I've only ever had an upright vacuum and decided, for some reason, that I'd prefer an upright washer. In practice it's stable, easy to use and efficient.
The main attraction of the AromaPro (and certain other Bissells) over the Vax competitor is that it heats up the water before use which, supposedly makes cleaning better. I imagine it might also help with drying too although no claims are made to this effect.
+++ Getting Ready To Wash +++
Setting up the AromaPro is fairly straightforward. A catch is used to release the upright part of the vacuum such that it lays flat against the floor. This then allows you to remove the water tank from the cleaner in order to fill it with water. You should use hand-hot water (so straight out of your hot tap) and then the on-board heater will heat it up to 25°C hotter. A thermostat will never allow the temperature to go over 180°C (although if you can get water out of your tap at 150+ °C then you might have a problem bigger than a stain on your carpet).
There is an easy carry handle on the water tank which also acts as the mechanism to allow you to take the top off the tank. It feels sturdy and is balanced when both full and empty making it easy to carry. The water tank itself contains a bladder system - clean water goes into the bladder and then, when used, the dirty water will go into the outside of the tank making it easy to empty.
The wash formula is placed into a separate tank which simply pops in and out of the side of the machine. The tank is easy to fill although I have experienced a very small amount of leakage from the cap and grommet inserts. This is negligible and would not prevent me from recommending the machine. The advantage of the separate tank for wash formula is, for me, significant. It allows you to easily see how much detergent is left and also allows the cleaner to operate on one of three settings,heavy traffic, normal and rinse, each of which use different detergent levels.
There is no need to empty the wash formula tank at the end of use and the formula can be stored in situ. Given, however, that I noticed a small amount of leakage I have always emptied the formula back into the bottle it came from. This also makes sense to me as it may be some time between uses and the opaque bottle is likely to prevent the degradation of the formula more than a clear(ish) tank on the machine.
When you turn the machine on you should wait a couple of minutes for it to heat the water and then you can start to clean.
It is advisable to dry vacuum the area you plan to wash before cleaning (unless you are doing a spot stain removal) and it should be noted that the Bissell AromaPro is NOT also a dry vacuum. You can get combined models but, in my opinion it is unnecessary. Washers are quite heavy and you are unlikely to want to do the general vacuuming with one. It's as easy to dry vacuum the area with a traditional vacuum before you decide to wash the carpet.
+++ Let's Wash +++
The washing operation of the machine could not be simpler. You simply move the washer across the floor as you would any vacuum. Squeezing a trigger on the handle causes the soapy wash to pass through the machine. You should then recover the same area a couple of times without pressing the trigger. This will suck up the wash. For particularly grubby areas you repeat this until the water returning looks clean (it will still look a bit soapy) and then you should continue to vacuum the same area without the trigger pressed to draw up all the water. Care should be taken not to over-soak the carpet although in practice I have found two passes of solution to be perfectly sufficient and this does not seem to result in the carpet getting overly wet.
There is a rinse function which can be used to ensure that all solution and dirt is lifted and this function does not add any additional detergent. To be honest I've not noticed any appreciable difference between using or not using this function although I suspect in highly soiled areas or for households where the presence of residual detergent might be an issue it could be of use.
The "power brush" on the vacuum really does seem to make light work of lifting dirt and, despite the amount of water you are pushing around the vacuum is not overly heavy. Yes, you'll feel like you've had a decent work out after cleaning a large area but it's not very hard work.
A "hard floor" tool is provided to allow you to wash non-carpeted areas such as vinyl or tile. You should not use this on unsealed hardwood areas. I've not really experimented with this tool as I prefer to do my kitchen floor by hand.
Like traditional dry vacuums there is an assortment of tools for edges, fiddly areas, spot stain removal and upholstery. The flexi hose that one uses with these is of a good length and the tools are easy to fit and use. The turbo brush is particularly useful for spot stain removal.
I have used the edge tool to ensure coverage right up to the skirting boards although, in practice, the coverage of the vacuum itself is very good, getting pretty darn close to the edges as it is.
The only issue with using the tools is that some residual water seems to collect in the hose meaning that when you switch between tools and machine (via a very simple dial) there can be some slight spillage. It's not a big issue, more of an annoyance.
The tools are stored on-board the vacuum and are fairly easy to reattach. The only issue we have is with the turbo tool which, on our model sits on the front of the machine. This is forever coming away. It seems, however, that Bissell have changed the design slightly and this tool now lives at the rear of the machine, hopefully more securely. Again, however, it's not something that would prevent me from recommending the machine as it's easy enough to store the tools separately should you so desire.
The power cable is sufficiently long to allow you to clean a 25 x 14 foot room with ease and with no need to re-site the plug.
I found that a room that had been completely cleaned took 2-3 hours to be dry to touch and would recommend a 12 hour no use policy to ensure complete drying. Spot cleaning obviously doesn't require exclusions. The damp spots will also dry much quicker with 1-2 hours being required at most. If you are cleaning a whole room then there are a few things to take into account. You'll need to move the furniture out of the room (you don't want to drag it across wet carpet) and you'll also need to clean yourself out of the room rather than backing yourself into a corner!
+++ Cleaning Up +++
After use you do have to clean the vacuum. Removing the dirty water is as simple as filling the tank in the first place. Simply remove the tank and then tip out the dirty water. If you've wool carpets (particularly relatively new ones) you'll probably find quite a few fibres trapped in the machine and tank. From the tank these are easy to rinse out (as is the filter that prevents larger things going into the machine).
You'll probably also find a lot of fibres caught by the brush at the front of the machine. I remove these each time to stop build up. The fibres are fairly easy to remove from the brush itself although those that have travelled higher up the machine with the water can be harder to shift and I have a few clumps of fibres that I just can't reach. These don't seem to degrade the effectiveness of the machine.
The only "cleaning up" issue I have is actually at the end of the wash when you switch the vacuum off. A small amount of residual water and detergent seems to leak from the front and rear edges of the vacuum and can leave a wet patch on the floor. I find this easy to overcome by simply not leaving the cleaner to stand on carpeted floor but returning it to the kitchen or bathroom where there is no carpet - spills can then just be wiped up. It's an annoyance though.
+++ Detergent +++
The AromaPro recommended detergent has a lavender scent. I'm not a fan of scented cleaning products in general but this scent is particularly pleasant. In fact, I'd go so far as to say that it's a bit of a necessity. Having run out of detergent on one occasion and only being able to purchase a non-scented one I was very pleased that the normal product has a lavender scent. The unscented product left the room smelling of damp carpet, which, rather like wet dog, is not a particularly pleasant smell. The lavender scent effectively masks this damp smell.
The detergent also contains Scotchguard which helps prevent staining from spills and general wear. A bonus I think!
The lavender detergent is not widely available (and often out of stock on the high street) but I have found that buying direct from Bissell on the web is the way forward being both cheaper and not requiring you to carry heavy bottles around town. You do, of course, have to plan your use though!
It's also worth noting that you have to have some detergent in the tank and some water in order for the vacuum to work and this is the case even if you want to do a rinse. It's not a big issue but it did cause me a headache trying to work out why my new machine didn't work!
+++ In Summary +++
I'd heartily recommend this cleaner if you've the room to store it (the footprint is quite large and bigger than the likes of an upright Dyson). There are a few niggles with it but none sufficient to put me off. It's an efficient cleaner and, if you've light carpets it's very useful for keeping them looking new and fresh.
I've successfully removed stains from red wine through to unidentified sticky stuff. I've revitalised entrance hall carpets (that manage to pick up the day to day grime from shoes). I think this carpet cleaner has paid for itself and will hopefully continue to lengthen the life of my carpets. It's so much more convenient to have it "on hand" than to have to plan for the hire of a commercial machine.
If you are just looking to pick up spills then there are probably cheaper and lighter alternatives. If you are short on space then this is just going to cause you a storage issue. If, however, you have light carpets (especially if you also have children or pets) this could prove to be a good investment!
The Bissell AromaPro deep cleaner with turbo brush gently grooms carpets clean and lifts out deep down dirt / Easily converts to hard floor, upholstery and stair cleaning / Built in heater heats water 25 degrees hotter for optimal cleaning power / Short name: Bissell 8910E